The nineteenth century had its proper share of bad boys. Even though it’s more than a century ago, and even though some of them were not even real at all, there’s no doubting the attraction of one mr. Rochester, mr. Knightly, or mr. Heathcliff.

The nineteenth century’s bad boys are more commonly known as Byronic heroes, named after both Byron
himself as well as after the men in his writing, mostly in Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. The words “mad, bad, and dangerous to know” were later remarked about Byron by Caro Lamb, who had an affair with him.

A Byronic hero is easy to characterize: it is a man, usually a gloomy or somewhat depressed person or in any case a person with deep thoughts and intense feelings. He might be moody or unpleasant to deal with, and definitely be a little uncivil. He might be quite good-looking (as Byron himself was) or be somewhat ugly or unusual looking (as mr. Rochester.) He might have a hidden past or carry some deep, dark secret. But the most important thing, the one big element that all the Byronic heroes share, is: he is incredibly attractive. In spite of all his faults, there is something so engaging and intriguing about him, you cannot help but be interested in the Byronic hero.

As easy as it is to characterize, so hard is it to find them. Which is strange, since the Byronic hero is a fairly well-known concept and you’d expect nineteenth-century literature to be crawling with these mysterious broody men. Not so! The only few that I would name Byronic for certain are Jane Eyre’s Rochester and Wuthering Heights’ Heathcliff. Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice, maybe, but I seem to be alone on that. Erik from Phantom of the Opera, thought that is not Victorian but rather later. And Byron himself, of course.

Others that are called Byronic but I’m not sure I can agree: Captain Wentworth in Persuasion by Jane Austen (1818), Claude Frollo from Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1831), Edmond Dantes from Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo (1844),[3] (1847), Dorian Gray from The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890) by Oscar Wilde, and James Steerforth from Charles Dickens’s David Copperfield (1849–1850).

What do you think? Who is truly Byronic, and who isn’t? And who is your favourite, in real life, novel, or movie? Let me know!

(Depending on how bright your screen is set, this Heathcliff picture is a bit saucy. But definitely shows off the brooding/sexy image. Maybe not appropriate for work? View it here.)


Fern hunting

I’ve written a lot about ferns in the past and even reviewed a very ferny book, so these tidbits are a nice addition to all the fernery on this blog. These are again from A Room with a View, also known as “the book that illustrates my blogposts”. Nice.

Miss Bartlett gave a kind of wriggle, and he prepared for a discussion. He had never fathomed Miss Bartlett. As he had put it to himself in Florence, ‘she might yet reveal depths of strangeness, if not of meaning.’ But she was so unsympathetic that she must be reliable. He assumed that much, and he had no hesitation in discussing Lucy with her. Minnie was fortunately collecting ferns.


And, Miss Bartlett not favouring the scheme, they walked up the hill in a silence which was only broken by the rector naming some fern.

I thought this was very interesting, for a book published in 1908, to still be so concerned with ferns and fern collecting. It truly goes to show how big the fern craze was in the 19th century.


Recently I received something that was really pretty amazing, even for a seasoned 19th century enthousiast as I am. Someone send me a bunch of newspapers from around 1830! It was very weird to see and touch and smell something so old. They looked very nice and crisp and smelled nicely of cigars.


During the first half of the nineteenth century, duties on stamps and paper were progressively reduced, making newspapers increasingly less expensive. There was a massive growth of newspapers and news congregates during this century, and the foundations for today’s big newspapers were laid. .Newspapers of the 19th century were distinctly different from the ones we have now. I’ll give you some of my observations:

  • There was much less communication, and communication was less fast. In order to have news from all over the world, correspondents in different countries wrote a letter, explaining the happenings in their part of the world. This was printed in the newspaper verbatim. It’s like a friend writing you, it’s very nice
  • Reading the paper was pretty hard work: they did not have bold fonts, no pictures, no advertisements to rest your eyes on. All the happenings, from actual news to job offers to the times at a ship would depart are all printed back to back, in a very tiny font.
  • Newspapers were no place for funny things or mockery. Of course there were the feuilletons in newspapers, stories in parts, for which Dickens and Trollope are very famous. These were of course lighter reading but still pretty serious stuff.
  • Many people were looking for jobs. I think they were hired by their future employer just closing their eyes and pointing out an advertisement at random, there is no way to tell what kind of person someone was or what their strong points were, except that they were a shopkeeper or taylor or launderywoman.
  • There’s some really good gossip to be found! Imagine reading this newspaper and finding people who you know, offering their house up for rent or selling their chariot. Even 180 years later, you can just read between the lines and wonder at what happened.

Curious? I copied some stuff down for you:

MR. BUCKINGHAM’S lectures on INDIA, on Tuesday evenings, June 7, 14, 21, and 28, at the City of London Literary and Scientific Institution, 165, Aldersgatestreet, at 8 precisely. Tickets, 1s each. to be had at the Institution.

DISTRESSED MANUFACTURERES.– the committee, to whom have been assigned the collection and management of the fund now raising for the relief of the distress which prevaild in many of the manufacturing districts, and who have in consequence the amplest means of knowing the extent and pressure of that distress, and the utter inadequacy of the local and legal provision for its relief, respectfully, but confidently, appeal to their countrymen throughout the empire, to aid them in their endeavour to raise by general benevolence a sum proportionate to the exicengy.

DRIVING OR TRAVELLING CHARIOT.– nearly new, on telegraph springs, light, easy, and commodious, patent axletrees, lamps, drag chain, and staff, fore and hind boots with seats, and various boxes, all out of sight. The propertu of a gentleman, and will be sold for £100. Apply for reference to Honeywill, Black and Co., coachmakers, Berners-street.

ARRIVALS OF FISH.– TWO extraordinary fine perth salmon, weighing 65 lb., are now being smoked, and will be ready for sale in a few days, at Taylor’s, 43, Lombardstreet, city: the centre slices 2s. 6d. per lb. J. Taylor has lately been selling the largest and best Dutch and Dover turbots from 8s to 10s each, and cautions the public against the iced Scotch turbots now selling about town that are not worth the cooking.

BOARD AND RESIDENCE in the country.– a lady, occupying a detached cottage, which is in a very healthy and desirable situation, would be happy, in consequence of its being larger than she requires, to receive one or two inmates, to whom she can offer all the comforts of a home, the joint use of a pony and chaise may be had, and the privilege of sleeping at her house in town as occasion may require.

WASHING.– an old established laundress is desirous of obtaining a family’s, gentleman’s, or hotel’s washing, having every convenience, plenty of water, and a good drying ground. A tilted cart to all parts of town every day.

EMPLOYMENT.– WANTED by a steady respectable person, a situation as shopman, warehouseman, wharfinger, light porter &c. He writes a good hand, has been accustomed to books and trade generally, can make himself useful in any bussiness, and will engage at a moderate salary. Respectable reference.

Don’t you love that? People in the 19th century were kind of just like us! Looking for cheap cars and fish and roommates. If you want to touch and smell some old newspaper yourself, or read all about these saucy madams looking for inmates or the secondrate iced fish, you can order a newspaper from http://www.historic-newspapers.co.uk. Of course, since you’re reading this blog and therefore deserving old newspapers even more, you get a discount code: enter 15today at checkout to get a discount on any original or Victorian newspaper!

A long time ago I wrote about Keats and the saddest life story: one of the most romantic poets, living a very short and unhappy life, and now being tragically undervalued by, well, by most people (except Percy Bysshe Shelley but even that was not much of a consolation!)

I found this funny remark in E.M.Forster’s A Room with a View, referring to Keats as a writer of beautiful romantic things.

“Isn’t Romance capricious! I never notice it in you young people; you do nothing but play lawn-tennis and say that Romance is dead, while the Miss Alans are struggling with all the weapons of propriety against the terrible thing. ‘A really comfortable pension at Constantinople!’ So they call it out of decency, but in their hearts they want a pension with magic windows opening on the foam of perilous seas in fairylands forlorn! No ordinary view will content the Miss Alans. They want the Pension Keats.”

A Room with a View, by the way, is a very pleasant book to read. In describing the life and choices of a young girl it shows the difference between Victorian values and the new, more free attitude of the turn of the century, and how this affects people in their everyday dealings.

Here is some art that I like an incredible lot, and you might too. It’s made in 1913, but in a very much Art Nouveau style, I do think it fits very well with the theme of this blog. This art is by Kay Neilsen for the book In Powder and Crinoline: Old Fairy Tales, written by Arthur Quiller-Couch.

kay neilsen quiller couch powder crinoline

kay neilsen quiller couch powder crinoline

kay neilsen quiller couch powder crinoline

kay neilsen quiller couch powder crinoline

kay neilsen quiller couch powder crinoline

kay neilsen quiller couch powder crinoline

kay neilsen quiller couch powder crinoline

I like them incredibly much, how about you? You can read all about Kay Neilsen here.

These days, thanks to the amazing Google Art Project, you don’t need to travel to see great art. You can browse paintings and sculptures by your favourite artist, timeperiod, or museum.

So for today, I curated this little exhibition for you from works that are located in the Alte Nationalgalerie in Berlin. The museum itself is much more amazing, and in no way comparable to seeing art online, but it’s still nice to have all the art you want at your fingertips.

A little collection of romantic and impressionist artworks, closing with my favourite artist of all time.

Spring Landscape, 1862, Charles-François Daubigny

In the Conservatory, 1878 – 1879, Edouard Manet

The Grove, or the Admiral’s House in Hampstead, 1821 – 1822, John Constable

The Isle of the Dead, 1883, Arnold Böcklin

Seine Landscape near Chatou, 1855, Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot

The Flax Barn at Laren, 1887, Max Liebermann

Moonrise over the Sea, 1822, Caspar David Friedrich

One time when I was procrastinating in the library I happened upon this truly amazing book. It was a very small book, originally written for children, called When I was a Girl in Holland. It’s actually a very simple concept: a girl growing up in the Netherlands around 1880 describing her life, the routines and habits and holidays. This book and others in the series were meant for American children to get a view of how children in other countries lived.

The book is especially interesting because this sort of information is rarely given usually, it’s considered too trite. For example, how does a birthday party in 1880 look? How many people were hired to work on a farm, or why could Dutch people only visit their far-away relatives in winter (answer: they could ice-skate in winter and travel far larger distances!)

I searched for a long time and found the entire book online, it’s an amazing read. For the next few weeks, I’ll publish a few sections from the book, some things that I think would be interesting to you.

If you want to read the entire book, you can do so here.

Here’s the first snippet, about the writer being born:

During the next ten days, little blond, red-cheeked girls came trudging through the snow. Some were carrying parcels in their mittened hands, others had flat red-painted boxes. They knocked at the front door, called “Folk in,” and were led into the house. They placed the parcel or the box in the hands of the maid and timidly said:

“The compliments of mother, and here is a present.”

The present appeared to be a dress, an apron, a petticoat, or a pair of socks, if it came from a parcel, but if it was taken from a box it was bound to be a large layer-cake or several small tarts, baked by the village baker or bought in the nearest town, and intended for the party. […]

Now the girl was led into the big livingroom and seated on an old-fashioned chair with reed bottom; on the table before her was placed a dainty, crisp Dutch rusk covered with butter and sugar. This she ate, that I might grow up into a healthy and strong child.